Nicolai Hojgaard, who earned the final pick of captain Luke Donald ahead of Adrian Meronk, was at the other end of the scale in shooting 76.
Then there were Europe’s two big guns, No. 2-ranked Rory McIlroy and No. 3-ranked Jon Rahm, who labored their way around the West Course and shot 72 and 71, respectively, on a glorious day at the European tour’s headquarters where the upcoming Ryder Cup remained a glaring subplot.
“I think we are all a little bit in the Ryder Cup mindset,” said No. 4-ranked Viktor Hovland, who will be one of Donald’s key players at the Marco Simone club from Sept. 29-Oct. 1 and shot 69 in his first round at Wentworth.
“It is a little bit weird to have to have two thoughts going at the same time.”
Hovland played in a heavyweight group containing McIlroy and Åberg, mixing two established stars with another with the golfing world at his feet.
One bad swing cost Åberg the chance of a really low round. He pulled his tee shot out-of-bounds at the par-5 17th hole, which he had reached on 5 under after rolling in five straight birdies from No. 11.
In another setting out in the morning, Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood both shot 69 alongside Sepp Straka (70).
Fitzpatrick, who went out with Robert MacIntyre and Justin Rose (both 72), played the best of the Ryder Cup squad after starting with four birdies in his first six holes. He curled in a birdie putt at the last from 18 feet to join Richie Ramsay in a tie for second place.
“I’m here to try to win this week,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’ll start focusing on the Ryder Cup once Sunday finishes.”
They are all chasing the 26-year-old Helligkilde, who is coming to the end of his second season on the European tour.
His hot streak of early birdies began on the fourth hole, with two of them — on Nos. 5 and 7 — being tap-ins from inside 2 feet. He made birdie putts from 10 and 12 feet on Nos. 16 and 17, before getting up-and-down from just off the back of the 18th for a 10th birdie.
Helligkilde said he was hitting it “terrible” on the range.
“I asked (my coach), ‘What should I do?’” he said, “and he’s like, ‘Yeah, you’re probably going to play great.’ So that was what happened.”